I am a bit of a church geek

Fred Hiltz and Janice Biehn.
Janice Biehn with Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.
 on May 1, 2018
The Rev. Jesse Dymond

Janice Biehn is the communications coordinator at The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) and a member of St. Olave, Swansea in Toronto.

I write about the life-changing work that PWRDF supports in Canada and around the world. This includes development and relief programs as well as the inspiring and tireless efforts of our many volunteers in parishes across Canada. Then, once I write the stories, I publish them on our website, social media, in newsletters and more. I also worked on the World of Gifts guide this past year.

I’m currently working on the June issue of Under the Sun, PWRDF’s newsletter that is distributed with the Anglican Journal three times a year. This October marks the 60th anniversary of the Springhill, N.S. mining disaster that led to the formation one year later of what would eventually become PWRDF. So we will be rolling out some special projects over those 12 months, including an e-book and a travelling exhibit.

The best part of my job is telling people’s stories of strength and resilience in the face of real adversity, and then seeing how those stories engage people to volunteer or donate. I find it exciting to motivate Anglicans to put their faith into action. It’s also very humbling to work in the international development and humanitarian sector. I’m working with people who are devoted to making the world a better place, one community at a time. I read the paper and keep up on world events, but working “on the inside” has opened my eyes. And that brings me to the worst part of my job – feeling like I can’t possibly do people’s stories justice in a few hundred words. There are days when I feel no story I write is going to move the needle a smidge. Part of my job is to follow other humanitarian and development organizations on Twitter and some days the news can be pretty overwhelming.

I was born in Sarnia and raised in London, Ont. I went to Huron College at Western University in London and studied English and French, then on to Ryerson in Toronto to do a graduate degree in journalism. That’s where I met my husband, Craig Douglas, and we never left Toronto. I worked at various magazines and newspapers in Toronto, and for the last seven years I was editor of ParentsCanada magazine. I loved that job, but it was time for a change. Then I found this job at PWRDF and feel so blessed to have been hired.

I’m a cradle Anglican so my faith journey is rooted in the pews. I grew up going to St. John the Evangelist in London, where the late Terry Finlay was the rector and a family friend. My parents are still active members there. As a child I enjoyed the rituals of the service and the music especially. I remember spending a few minutes before each service reading through the bulletin and marking the readings with the silky ribbons in the BAS or dog-earing the well-worn pages of the BCP. As a teenager, I often worked Sunday mornings, so my church attendance waned. At 20, I decided to get confirmed. The classes clicked with a lot of the literature courses I was taking. (To paraphrase the great Northrop Frye, all literature has its roots in the Bible).

After we got married and settled in Toronto, my husband and I started attending St. Olave’s in Bloor West Village. Like most, the church was more than 100 years old with well-established traditions and rhythms that were familiar to me. In high school I had participated in a rich choral music program and I was eager to rekindle that skill, so I joined the church’s choir. Singing in the choir has become a big part of my spiritual discipline. My fellow choristers range in age from 14 to 87. We’re quite a crew!

Over these past 22 years at St. O’s, my faith journey has intersected with being a parent (teaching Sunday School), my career (developing parish communications) and a passion for leading (being a churchwarden). I feel very fortunate to be able to do this work. Bringing together a disparate group of people that has little in common other than their love of the gospel, this church (and singing) – that’s what I’m passionate about.

I admittedly am a bit of a church geek. I’m always reading about ideas for growth, looking for exciting events to stage and innovative forms of communication to try. In truth, it’s my love for community and communicating that moves me. Before I became involved in parish leadership, I applied the same focus to my kids’ school and in our neighbourhood. My husband and I also love movies and every summer “curate” our own outdoor film festival in our back yard for neighbours and other friends. We love to travel and have been blessed to do a lot of it, with and without our two daughters (who both attend Dalhousie University in Halifax). We love entertaining and being entertained by friends and family. We love exploring Toronto, skiing, walking our dog and discussing at great lengths why some TV commercials work and others miss the mark. We also rarely miss an episode of Jeopardy! and both feel if team Jeopardy! were a thing, we’d crush it.

Five years from now, I pray I’m still at PWRDF, with a few visits to our overseas projects under my belt and by then an expert in the latest forms of communication, some of which probably have yet to be invented.

My favourite passage from scripture is Matthew 6:34. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” My mom always told me that things will work out the way they should, and this passage aligns with her sage advice. Now that I am a parent, I see the wisdom in those words and I think of them often.


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